Friday, August 26, 2005

Those French intelligence officials....

The Financial Times carries an interview with France’s top anti-terrorist judge, Jean-Louis Bruguière. One piece of information -- which the FT is hyping -- is that Al Qaeda is ostensibly planning an attack on a financial center in the Pacific Rim.

However, the meat of the interview contains an interesting observation about the distinctions between civil law and commonlaw countries in dealing with terrorism:

France since 1986 we have deliberately put the legal system at the center of the struggle. That is how we have developed a pro-active policy, which means giving the arm of the law the ability to apply pressure in a policy of prevention.

This means doing away with the distinctions between repression done by the judiciary and prevention as carried out by the intelligence services. The barrier no longer exists. The advantage of this is that the legal system is more credible and less contested. By working more closely with the secret services the legal system is reinforced.

Our system is much more flexible as it is civil law rather than common law. The source of the law are legal texts, not jurisprudence of previous decisions. We don’t have to bow to legal precedents, as in the UK or US, which prevents their system from evolving. As a result the US and UK have been forced to seek other answers to the new threat, some of which are often outside the law.

All the debate in the common law systems will be about the admissibility of evidence. In the French system all types of evidence are admissible but they do not have the same weight. As a result, sharing intelligence information in the law enforcement area is not an insurmountable obstacle and can be a starting-point for our enquiries....

Our offence of ‘criminal association with a terrorist enterprise’ is much stiffer than the British offence of conspiracy. It includes any activity, whether logistics or financial, that helps a terrorist activity, whether or not the group or its objective has been identified.

In France we can hold a suspect for four days without them being charged or gaining full access to a lawyer. Every year France has disrupted terrorist threats, such as the attempt in 2000 to bomb the Christmas market in Strasbourg. We have not suffered a terrorist attack since 1996. We do not have a system that is as tough as the British for expelling radicals.

Readers are invited to comment on the tradeoffs between the two legal traditions in dealing with national security issues. On economic growth, there are other tradeoffs, btw.

posted by Dan at 12:30 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (1)

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The future of computer science?

On of the common laments about offshore outsourcing is that it is causing a decline of interest in computer science and related engineering tasks.

Via Slashdot, I see that Steve Lohr had an interesting piece in the New York Times earlier this week that provides some support for this lament -- but the market is doing interesting things to the study of computers:

Jamika Burge is heading back to Virginia Tech this fall to pursue a Ph.D. in computer science, but her research is spiced with anthropology, sociology, psychology, psycholinguistics - as well as observing cranky couples trade barbs in computer instant messages.

"It's so not programming," Ms. Burge said. "If I had to sit down and code all day, I never would have continued. This is not traditional computer science."

For students like Ms. Burge, expanding their expertise beyond computer programming is crucial to future job security as advances in the Internet and low-cost computers make it easier to shift some technology jobs to nations with well-educated engineers and lower wages, like India and China.

"If you have only technical knowledge, you are vulnerable," said Thomas W. Malone, a professor at the Sloan School of Management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the author of "The Future of Work" (Harvard Business School Press, 2004). "But if you can combine business or scientific knowledge with technical savvy, there are a lot of opportunities. And it's a lot harder to move that kind of work offshore."

Read the whole thing.

Meanwhile, in India, the returns to offshoring are declining because of rising wages, according to CNN's Parija Bhatnagar:

A new report from market research firm Gartner, Inc. warns that a labor crunch and rising wages could erode as much as 45 percent of India's market share by 2007.

Indian industry watchers acknowledge that the country's outsourcing industry -- its golden goose of the moment -- is indeed facing a "serious" problem.

In an interview with CNN/Money from New Delhi, Kiran Karnick, president of the National Association of Software and Service companies (NASSCOM), said he's concerned that these challenges could stymie India's strong double-digit growth in outsourcing services....

India can't afford to rest on its laurels, said Sujay Chohan, one of the authors of the Gartner report and vice president and research director of offshore business process outsourcing with Gartner in New Delhi.

Unless India devises a long-term roadmap to improve infrastructure and consistently grow its skilled labor force, he said India will see some of its offshore BPO clients shift business elsewhere.

"Although India's infrastructure is improving, it is not keeping pace with the rapid growth of the industry," the report said.

See Ed Frauenheim's reaction on CNET's Workplace Blog

posted by Dan at 11:52 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

The President's suggested reading

The Washington Examiner asked losers who check their e-mail in late August political junkies what they thought George W. Bush's summer reading should be in Crawford. You can read the responses -- including mine -- here.

I will say, though, that Bush's actual selections -- "John Barry's The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History, Mark Kurlansky's Salt: A World History and Edvard Radzinsky's Alexander II: The Last Great Tsar" -- aren't too shabby. The first choice, in particular, might have some policy relevance for the future.

That said, Jonathan Rauch's selection is the one that stands out.

posted by Dan at 08:37 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Beloit College needlessly reminds me of my age

I have a summer birthday, and I am creeping ever closer to 40. Curiously, I seem to be the oldest member of my peer group, and so all of my friends take great delight in saying "Dude, you're old." at the appropriate moment.

In that spirit, it seems fitting to link to the Beloit College Mindset List for this year:

It is the creation of Beloit’s Keefer Professor of the Humanities Tom McBride and Director of Public Affairs Ron Nief.

McBride, who directs Beloit’s First Year Initiatives (FYI) program for entering students, notes that "This year’s entering students have grown up in a country where the main business has become business, and where terrorism, from obscure beginnings, has built up slowly but surely to become the threat it is today. Cable channels have become as mainstream as the 'Big 3' used to be, formality in dress has become more quaint than ever, and Aretha Franklin, Kermit the Frog and Jimmy Carter have become old-timers."

“Each year,” according to Nief, “When Beloit releases the Mindset List, it is the birth year of the entering students that is the most disturbing fact for most readers. [Most students entering college this fall were born in 1987--DD] This year will come as no exception and, once again, the faculty will remain the same age as the students get younger.”

My highlights from this year's list:

They don't remember when "cut and paste" involved scissors.

Boston has been working on "The Big Dig" all their lives.

Iran and Iraq have never been at war with each other.

The federal budget has always been more than a trillion dollars.

Condoms have always been advertised on television.

Money put in their savings account the year they were born earned almost 7% interest.

Southern fried chicken, prepared with a blend of 11 herbs and spices, has always been available in China.

Tom Landry never coached the Cowboys.

Entertainment Weekly has always been on the newsstand.

They never saw a Howard Johnson's with 28 ice cream flavors.

They have grown up in a single superpower world.

And, in conclusion:

They have always been challenged to distinguish between news and entertainment on cable TV.

posted by Dan at 10:01 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (1)

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Global Fund depresses me on Uganda

For many of the blights that bedevil sub-Saharan Africa -- AIDS, poverty, corruption -- Uganda has been considered an exception. However, Sebastian Mallaby's The World's Banker implied that much of this success would not necessarily be self-sustaining.

It's with that in mind that I was saddened but not surprised to see this Alan Beattie story in the Financial Times:

The Geneva-based Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria has suspended its grants to Uganda, a pioneer of Aids treatment, after an investigation uncovered evidenceof “serious mismanagement” of funds.

The investigation by the organisation's “local fund agent” (LFA), the business services firm PwC, found a string of problems with the grants, the FT was told.

The fund has disbursed about $45m (€37m, £25m) to Uganda over several years.

The report found that when dollar grants were converted into Ugandan shillings, discrepancies between the exchange rate reported and actual market exchange rates meant that there was a shortfall of some $280,000....

Uganda, one of the aid darlings of Africa in the recent past, has been praised for its efforts in tackling Aids. The Global Fund said that, in spite of the report, Uganda's programmes had successfully treated thousands of sufferers, and said it would try to ensure that such programmes were not disrupted. It also defended its central role in the global fight against Aids. But Uganda has come under increasing criticism for the continued perceived prevalence of corruption, as measured by surveys such as that of the campaign, Transparency International. Some officials and campaigners are raising questions about giving debt relief and aid without strict conditions on use.

You can read this Global Fund press release, as well as this additional Q&A, which cites "inappropriate, unexplained or improperly documented" expenses.

posted by Dan at 03:22 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

OK, I think I've got Pat Robertson's cycle figured out...

So, I see Pat Robertson has spoken out in favor of offing Venezuelan President/strongman Hugo Chavez.

Hmmm... about two years ago, Pat Robertson spoke out in favor of supporting indicted war criminal, former Liberian President/strongman Charles Taylor.

And two years before that, there was the whole 9/11 commentary (although Robertson later said that he had "not fully understood" when he was agreeing with his guest Jerry Falwell).

Readers are invited to identify the target of ire or defense that will make Robertson look like a foreign policy jackass in the summer of 2007.

posted by Dan at 12:04 AM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Iran's smoking gun goes poof

Three weeks ago today Dafnia Linzer had a Washington Post front-pager on an National Intelligence Estimate that said Iran wasn't nearly as close to developing nuclar weapons as previously thought.

Three weeks later, Linzer pours even colder water on Iran's WMD progress:

Traces of bomb-grade uranium found two years ago in Iran came from contaminated Pakistani equipment and are not evidence of a clandestine nuclear weapons program, a group of U.S. government experts and other international scientists has determined.

"The biggest smoking gun that everyone was waving is now eliminated with these conclusions," said a senior official who discussed the still-confidential findings on the condition of anonymity.

Scientists from the United States, France, Japan, Britain and Russia met in secret during the past nine months to pore over data collected by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, according to U.S. and foreign officials. Recently, the group, whose existence had not been previously reported, definitively matched samples of the highly enriched uranium -- a key ingredient for a nuclear weapon -- with centrifuge equipment turned over by the government of Pakistan.

Iran has long contended that the uranium traces were the result of contaminated equipment bought years ago from Pakistan. But the Bush administration had pointed to the material as evidence that Iran was making bomb-grade ingredients.

The conclusions will be shared with IAEA board members in a report due out the first week in September, according to U.S. and European officials who agreed to discuss details of the investigation on the condition of anonymity. The report "will say the contamination issue is resolved," a Western diplomat said.

U.S. officials have privately acknowledged for months that they were losing confidence that the uranium traces would turn out to be evidence of a nuclear weapons program. A recent U.S. intelligence estimate found that Iran is further away from making bomb-grade uranium than previously thought, according to U.S. officials.

The IAEA findings come as European efforts to negotiate with Iran on the future of its nuclear program have faltered, and could complicate a renewed push by the Bush administration to increase international pressure on Tehran.

Link via David Adesnik, who asks, "The question, then, would seem to be the same one as we now ask about Iraq: Why would a government with nothing to hide constantly lie to international inspectors?"

posted by Dan at 06:07 PM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, August 22, 2005

What's the best way to deal with broadband?

Earlier this year Thomas Bleha published a provocative essay in Foreign Affairs that argued the U.S. had lost its technological leadership on the Internet:

[T]he United States has fallen far behind Japan and other Asian states in deploying broadband and the latest mobile-phone technology. This lag will cost it dearly. By outdoing the United States, Japan and its neighbors are positioning themselves to be the first states to reap the benefits of the broadband era: economic growth, increased productivity, and a better quality of life.

The September/October issue of Foreign Affairs has an interesting exchange of letters between Bleha and Philip Weiner on how best to rectify the situation. Bleha prefers "top-level political leadership" and "a national broadband strategy with bold deployment goals." Weiner offers some excellent cautions to this strategy, including this fascinating bit of protectionist trivia:

The current fcc is not to blame for the lack of spectrum available for wireless broadband; U.S. broadband policy is hamstrung by a series of protectionist decisions that Congress and earlier commissions made years ago to govern the transition from analog to digital television. These decisions, intended to protect U.S. television manufacturers from Japanese competition, dedicated large swaths of spectrum to television broadcasters, which now reach only approximately 15 percent of their viewers "over the air" (as opposed to via satellite or cable connections)....

Bleha's most troubling argument is his claim that the U.S. government should support certain technologies as part of its economic development strategy. To appreciate how risky the proposal is, consider the rise of advanced television and advanced mobile-phone service, both of which prompted regulatory strategies of the kind Bleha champions -- and both of which ultimately backfired.

It was the threat of Japan's rise in the 1980s that spurred the course toward digital television that the United States still follows today. Washington committed wide swaths of spectrum to digital television, leaving U.S. mobile-phone providers with less bandwidth than they needed and only about half the amount of their European counterparts. The entire effort assumed that Americans would continue to watch television shows broadcast over the air. Yet over the past two decades, more U.S. consumers have begun to watch cable and satellite television, undermining the rationale for this expensive policy, which has also delayed innovation and imposed unjustifiable costs on the nation.

Meanwhile, the European regulatory authority decided that the advent of digital, second-generation cell phones required governments to promote the technology known as the global system for mobile communications, or gsm, to ensure a compatible system throughout Europe. Wisely, the United States refused to favor any given technology and instead allowed marketplace experimentation to guide development. That strategy yielded the superior code division multiple access (cdma) technology developed by the California company Qualcomm, which uses spectrum more efficiently. The transition to the next generation of mobile telecommunications standards (which are based on cdma technology) will be much smoother for those U.S. companies that have adopted cdma, such as Verizon Wireless and Sprint PCS, than for their European counterparts.

Bleha also urges Washington to commit to supporting the installation of ultra-high-speed fiber connections to one-third of U.S. households by 2010. But his proposal may be foolhardy: even though fiber appears to be a promising technology today, such technologies have failed in the past for a variety of reasons, leaving investors with little to show for their money. (Remember digital audio tape recorders?) The U.S. government should be leery of endorsing particular technologies -- or even certain transmission speeds -- before it knows more about them and whether the market can support them.

Read the whole exchange.

posted by Dan at 11:09 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

Does China contradict the liberal paradigm, part deux

Following up on my post a few months ago on whether China's economic liberalization will lead to democratization, the Economist asks similar questions about the trajectory of Hu Jintao's government -- and comes up with the same muddled answer:

Mr Hu's (in fact, fairly consistent) conservatism has been evident in his belief that the Communist Party, riddled with corruption and other abuses of power, is quite capable of cleaning up its own act without the need for any checks or balances. This year, for instance, he has ordered millions of party officials to take part in many hours of mind-numbing ideological training designed to tighten party discipline (known as the “education campaign to preserve the advanced nature of Communist Party members”)....

Publicly, Mr Hu's comments have been moderate in tone. But he has been tougher at closed-door gatherings, such as during a meeting of the party's Central Committee last September. The plenum was of crucial symbolic importance for Mr Hu. It appointed him as the supreme commander of China's armed forces, thus completing his takeover of the country's three top positions, following his appointment as party leader in November 2002 and president in March 2003. The contents of Mr Hu's maiden speech have not been published in full. In the still secret portion, Mr Hu reportedly railed against “Western hostile forces” and “bourgeois liberalisation”. It was a worrying throwback to the paranoid language that suffused official rhetoric in the wake of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989....

Yet for all Mr Hu's rhetoric, he has yet to strike out at perceived wayward tendencies with anything like the vigour shown by Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping or even Jiang Zemin, whose crackdown on Falun Gong, a spiritual movement, in 1999 sent many thousands to labour camps. The complaints of Beijing's intellectuals are offset by other signals that China's economic reforms are continuing, even if government enthusiasm for the kind of mass privatisation of state-owned enterprises that occurred in the late 1990s and early this decade may have abated. In February the government issued new guidelines for private investment in areas hitherto the preserve of the state. This month it issued a draft of China's first law on property rights, aimed at protecting individuals and companies from arbitrary appropriations by the state. Many say the new law is inadequate, but it is still something of a concession to a growing middle class.

Even in the realm of privatisation, the government continues to experiment. In May, a new attempt was launched at off-loading state-owned shares in the 1,400 companies listed in China's stockmarkets. The government has indicated that the reform plan will not mean selling off its controlling stake in “key enterprises”. But it will relinquish at least some of its firms.

Given the increasingly conspicuous inequalities emerging in China as a result of the country's embrace of capitalism, it suits Mr Hu to appear to pour cold water on the idea of laisser-faire economics, blamed for a growing gap between rich and poor, between regions and between urban and rural areas. In the past couple of years there has been an upsurge in the number of protests triggered by these disparities, as well as by rampant corruption. Mr Hu is trying to strengthen the party's legitimacy by stressing its sympathy for the disadvantaged.

Mr Hu's catchphrase is “balanced development”. This will be a central theme in a new five-year economic plan (a still cherished relic of the central-planning era) due to be discussed by the Central Committee in October and ratified by the legislature next March. It will be Mr Hu's first opportunity to put his stamp on a long-term economic strategy. But rapid growth will remain his first priority. Mr Hu has shown no sign of retreat from the core belief of party leaders since the early 1990s: that growth is essential to social stability and thus the party's survival. If redistributing wealth were to jeopardise that, even the conservative Mr Hu would back off.

posted by Dan at 08:30 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Media Wars, Episode II: The Media Strikes Back

Three weeks after Judge Richard Posner's disquisition on the media in the New York Times Book Review, the responses are in.

The NYT Book Review publishes five letters, including Eric Alterman, Bill Moyers, and NYT Executive Editor Bill Keller. Posner chose not to respond, which is a bit surprising, since the letters all have their flaws.

Let's take Keller for an example:

The saddest thing is that Judge Posner's market determinism leaves no room for the other dynamics I've witnessed in my 35 years in newspapers: the idealism of reporters who think they can make the world better, the intellectual satisfaction of puzzling through a complicated issue, the competitive gratification of being first to discover a buried story, the pride in striving to uphold a professional code of fair play, the quest for peer recognition and, yes, the feedback from attentive and thoughtful readers. He makes no allowance for the possibility that conscientious reporters and editors are capable of setting aside their personal beliefs or standing up to their advertisers (and the prejudices of their readers) to do work they believe in.

Would he be so cynical about a world he actually knows? Is the behavior of the American judiciary explainable purely as a response to economic self-interest? Should we assume that all judicial rulings are panderings, either to the voting public or to the executives who hand out judicial appointments? Or should we allow that reverence for the law, a respect for how democracy functions, a sense of fairness, the satisfaction of a well-reasoned argument — judgment — have some relevance to how judges behave?

I'm not sure I completely buy Posner's original thesis, but this response by Keller is cartoonish and uninformed. Of course journalists can write stories contrary to their personal prejudices -- one of Posner's points in the initial review was that market competition forces journalists to put aside their prior beliefs. As to whether media is capable of "standing up to their advertisers (and the prejudices of their readers)," I'm pretty sure that Posner's theory would allow for this possibility -- but it's always the exception and never the rule. Posner's trying to explain the overall trend, not the exceptions.

Oh, and I'm pretty sure Posner would be eminently comfortable with theories that postulate "the behavior of the American judiciary [is] explainable purely as a response to economic self-interest?" There's a small-but-emerging literature in political science about explaining opportunistic behavior among judges -- click here for one example.

How do I know that Posner would be comfortable with this argument? See Richard A. Posner, "What Do Judges Maximize? (The Same Thing Everybody Else Does)," Supreme Court Economic Review, vol. 3 (1995), pp. 1-28.

posted by Dan at 09:10 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (3)